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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Storytelling is catching on inside of association circles and beyond. Is it the next new fad or is there really something to it?

We tried out social media marketing, email marketing and web marketing. Each tactic brought a tiny bit of growth. A tiny bit of growth for a lot of work and still overall penetration is roughly the same as it was a years ago. We feel like we are just treading water, not experiencing the viral growth other organizations are claiming. Marketing is more work than it once was and it seems the tactics alone are not the whole answer. What is going on?

Why does the business media keep showing us examples of all these small little startups that hit the web with an idea and overnight they are catapulted into fame and fortune? Their audience shares their content or product by word of mouth so rapidly no advertising spend could even match it. Why can’t we get just a slice of that?

Even our members seem immune to our messaging. How about that email open rate? Why is our marketing not connecting?

It is our story. Does our story attract, captivate and motivate? Can members quickly and easily make the link from their problem to our solution?

As prospective members progress down a decision-making path and we need to appeal to them at every step. To do that let’s dissect each step from their point of view. Stand in their shoes and imagine each scenario:


With hundreds of marketers and sales professionals screaming at us all day every day we’ve learned to throw up our anti-marketing force field. “Is someone trying to sell me something? No thank you”, we say. The only messages that we allow in are those that might answer the problem we have at that moment. Or marketing messages that we let in because they make us feel something. There’s something about the story that connects with us, who we are, what we think, how we feel and what we like.

At this stage our marketing mis-fires when the audience is hit with “buy now” “limited time offer” “$500 value”. This is not the time to sell. Selling scares them away. This is the time to attract. They have a problem. Let them know that you understand their problem. Why it is a problem. How it feels to have that problem.


For these few new organizations that we feel may solve our problem or have a story we just can’t resist we might research them, watch what they do or follow some more of their content. And we judge. Is this organization still likable? Might they solve my problem? Do people like me like, like this? If the answer is still yes we move into the affinity phase. We perhaps don’t buy yet but we like them and we hope we might interact with them more in the future.

Now is not the right time for your member to join, attend or buy. And that is okay. You will be there when they are ready. When their problem gets to be too great they cannot do without your services. For now your audience wants to know that you are solving problems like theirs for people like them.


Ah. It is time to make a purchase. We have a problem that needs to be solved and the desire to connect, join or belong. Because we have been building our affinity for the association it is top of mind when we go to make that all-important purchase. This is a crucial milestone and anything that goes wrong from purchase barriers, to complications, to poor service will impact our feelings of affinity. This first purchase or interaction with the association largely dictates whether we become engaged members or not.

How do we follow up on that purchase? Do we let on that it is just another membership in a day of 100 new memberships? The more personality, the more gratitude, the more fun, the more information we can put into our follow up communication the smoother the purchase will go for our new member. And the more likely they will turn to us first when they need to solve their next problem.


We have made the purchase and we are looking for resources, solutions and friends. We are perhaps unconsciously wondering do I belong? Where do I belong in this organization? The more we can get solutions that solve our problems in the way they need to be solved and the more we can feel a sense of belonging the greater our engagement with the association.

A member joined to solve a problem. Did we help them solve that problem? Now she has other problems. Are we solving her next problem, and the next, and the next?

Marketing communications is not just sharing information. Or selling without a salesperson. The best marketing communication is a story and the best stories are told to your members by each stage of their decision-making path.


Storytelling is becoming a hot topic in association marketing. We have found that it is not enough to just communicate in all channels; what we say is just as important. Traditional fact-based marketing repels while storytelling attracts. Amanda Kaiser, association blogger & speaker, helped to shape one of America’s most beloved brands: Crayola. She was the Director of Marketing at the National Association of Colleges and Employers and now she helps associations and others with member research based storytelling and branding. Find more articles like these on her blog or on Twitter @SmoothThePath.


(photo credit)

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